|About the Authors: Kunal Mahajan has been working in Investment Banking for 10 years now within the Leveraged Finance industry. He started his career at Barclays Capital, then at Mizuho Securities, and has been at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation as a Vice President for a year now and resides in New York City today. As a lifelong person who stutters, Kunal struggled with his stutter until he obtained acceptance of his stutter in July 2017. He has attended three intensive stuttering clinics, the Northwest Ohio Stuttering Clinic at the University of Toledo, the Successful Stuttering Management Program at Eastern Washington University, and the Northwest Center for Fluency Disorders at Idaho State University. Kunal went on to become Vice President at his Toastmasters Club, a Tour Guide at Carnegie Hall, a coach at the Dale Carnegie Leadership Training course, and can be found doing stand-up comedy at open mics at various venues throughout New York City.|
Please note that the following is based upon my personal experiences and observations from dealing with people who stutter.
Speak Your Mind. It is ironic that this is the theme of this year’s International Stuttering Awareness Day online conference as Speaking Your Mind is the last thing that those of us who stutter tend to do. Why that is the case is what we must examine and fully understand. Most of us have never gone down this route because we are afraid of what we may find, however, since when has refusing to acknowledge something that we know may not be pleasant, ever allowed us to get over anything?
What exactly has our mind been telling us our entire lives? It has been telling us that it is not ok to stutter. We have grown up in a school environment where kids pick on anyone who is different than the rest of everyone else. We can all remember at least one incident where one of those bullies at school poked fun of our stutter in front of everyone and embarrassed us. We go to speech therapy because our parents force us to as they want us to stop stuttering and therefore we want to stop stuttering ourselves, however, the countless hours of speech therapy do not seem to work as we are expecting to completely lose our stutter through therapy. Doing presentations is a part of the school curriculum starting at a very early age and we dread these experiences which only allow us to fail in them that much more. We watch the media and society tells us that actors and Hollywood are the most successful and well liked people in the world and they all consist of the best looking and most confident people we have ever seen who are speaking so eloquently and confidently in front of masses of people. We start to equate this confidence and their eloquent speech with their success and we view our stutter as the opposite of that and start believing that we can never achieve that kind of success because of it. We are told that girls love guys who are confident and we recognize that we are so insecure about our stutter and try to deny and hide it. This behavior makes us realize that confidence is the last thing that any of us stutterers have, so we live most of the early part of our lives not building any meaningful connections with people of the opposite sex. We start to have job interviews which consist of phone interviews and in-person interviews which we come to dread more than anything else. We are taught that we must be confident in interviews and we equate in our mind that confidence must mean ‘not stuttering’. This leads us to spend our entire interview trying to hide our stutter and doing everything we can to not stutter, however, not only does it not work, but we are too obsessed with focusing on our stutter that we fail to actually think through the interview questions themselves to provide strong answers and build a connection. We get rejection after rejection and we put all the blame of the rejection based upon our stutter. We believe our stutter is a significant weakness of ours and therefore we cannot do a job that requires a lot of communication skills. We resort to pigeonholing ourselves in more lower paying back office type of roles where we do not have to communicate as much and give up pursuing jobs and careers that we know we are qualified to do and have been our dream jobs. We end up sitting in these jobs where we do not have to communicate and get by while we avoid every speaking opportunity we can and therefore never improve our communication skills.
As you can see, a person who stutters (PWS) who speaks their mind will be speaking of a flurry of negative lifelong experiences. PWS choose to not speak their minds for this very reason. However, we all have our tipping points in life and there comes a time when the weight of these negative experiences is just too much so that we begin to finally start to recognize why these experiences are happening, and we start to speak our mind. This is what leads us to become deeply depressed as we start to reflect on just how much our feelings towards our stutter is impacting our lives and how much unhappiness it is causing us. We realize that hating our stutter so much has actually caused us to hate ourselves and we start to recognize just how depressed we really are in life in general. We begin to lose all hope and when we feel that we are at rock bottom, we are finally able to get the courage to seek help.
Seeking help is what allows us to begin to slowly change this distorted and negative mindset that we have created after spending a lifetime of hating ourselves. We first attend a live-in intensive stuttering clinic where we go away for 2 weeks to work with a speech and language therapist (SLP) for 40 hours of therapy a week and they help us gain acceptance of our stutter while teaching us ways to better manage our stutter. We start to develop some hope and our minds begin to open up. We recognize that the damage that we have done to ourselves is too great to reverse in just two weeks so we then begin to see a mental health therapist to help us get over our depression and our distorted mind. This therapist takes us down a journey that we have avoided our entire lives, which is reflecting on all of these negative experiences that happened in the past. It is painful to remember these instances, but we begin to understand why they happened and that gives us a small dose of closure. This therapist starts to help us realize how distorted our minds are and that our minds are made up of our negative perceptions as opposed to things that are factually true. This recognition allows us to start to challenge ourselves for the first time in our lives and we begin to have hope that there is a path to happiness for us and that there is something about our stutter that we can do.
We realize the value that having support gives us, and we end up joining the National Stuttering Association so that we can share and listen to stories from other PWS and have a community of people we connect with, who we recognize are fighting the same battles that we are. We learn from them and we start to hear from them about some of the actions they have taken to improve their confidence and communication skills and we become empowered to try these things ourselves. We find ourselves joining Toastmasters and start giving speeches in front of our club who provide us with valuable constructive feedback on our communication skills. We start to recognize that everyone cares about effective communication and that effective communication skills are something that both PWS and non-PWS have to work on. Some of us PWS will stay at this point having accepted our stutter and continue to slowly work on our communication skills. Other PWS will feel so empowered by understanding themselves and their progress, that they will continue to raise the bar as it relates to their speaking opportunities from Toastmasters, to giving presentations at work, to becoming a tour guide, to doing open mic stand-up comedy, and the possibilities end up seeming endless. Most importantly, these PWS are able to not just improve their communication skills, but they are able to be comfortable with being a PWS and of being their true genuine self, which brings them a great deal of confidence and happiness in life.
While it is easy to understand now why a PWS does not choose to speak their mind for decades and decades, it is clear that the sooner PWS can do so, the sooner they can truly turn around their distorted mind and turn their life around. As the great V said in his speech to the nation in the film V for Vendetta, when discussing who was to blame for the dictatorship government, “If you’re looking for the guilty, you need only to look into a mirror.” I ask all of you PWS out there, how many more years and decades are you going to let go by before you look into that mirror yourself? How much longer will you go before you start speaking your mind?
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